The needs for this are self-evident: Iowa has limited statewide options for online learning that pale in comparison to other states. This has come as the result of its fine educational system (and the pride that the state takes in it), as educators and community members alike have been slow to demand fixes when what we are used to "wasn't broken." But, times have changed, and the most vocal group for needing the benefits of online learning have been administrators.
To address this need, all 9 AEAs and 7 of the 8 largest districts in Iowa banded together to create a common proposal. They were awarded $2.7 million, to be used to address the needs of online learning for rural access, high teacher shortage areas, credit recovery, and disaster/pandemic preparation.
The specific action steps have quickly materialized:
- Develop/purchase online content for schools to freely use
- Link to and vet free online resources that exist on the web
- Deliver professional development to train K-12 teachers in online pedagogy
- Create a common repository for schools to access the content and deliver online learning
- Partner with Iowa Learning Online, which brokers courses that districts can open up to other district students
I've had the pleasure to work closely with Nancy Movall, who was named the grant specialist, and has been overseeing the governance of the grant. Nancy has been vigilant about 3 things--sustainability, efficiency, and results. The grant's funds are limited to one year, so purchasing seats in a program like Plato or Apex won't have any sustaining effects. Neither would they be transformative, as it would emphasize the same detached form of online learning that schools had been engaged in, one where the student works through endless modules in isolation.
She has stressed that we need to own content, that we need to make one-time purchases and have the content indefinitely. This will include some local development, geared around specific aspects of the essential skills and concepts. But given that we have limited resources in the area of instructional design, we have to be systemic about what we choose to develop ourselves.
Most importantly to Nancy, we need to avoid situations where teachers are developing content on their own. It is a model that is highly inefficient, and past track records have shown a tendency to take traditional face-to-face lessons and move them online, not taking advantage of the features about online learning to make it unique. Instead, teachers will be trained on how to take existing content, be they units, lessons, activities, or resources, and weaving them together for a powerful learning experience.
So, what do schools need to know? First and foremost, that help is coming. Schools interested in systemic professional development in online pedagogy now have an option, the OLLIE sequence. This professional development can be delivered in different formats to fit a school's needs. In addition, schools will have a solid base of content to choose from within a year's time, eliminating the need to purchase high quantities of seats in packaged programs. Plus, the process for schools to become participants in the arena of online learning will be made much easier with the resources that Iowa Learning Online offers.
Interested? Contact us:
• Evan Abbey - email@example.com
• Nancy Movall - firstname.lastname@example.org
• Arlan Thorson - email@example.com